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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Writer Who Would Not Be Mugged (Personal Update)

I may be smol and unbearably cute,
but I bite and kick.
Today is a really personal update. I don't have a way to really make it about writing. The last time I tried to shoehorn a personal update this visceral into a post about narratives and subverting tropes and stuff, the meta ended up being slightly embarrassing as the article went viral as fuck, and being kind of a silly way to tell a pretty basic story that didn't really have a lot to do with writing. So just for today I'm going to put down the "about writing" motif for a moment and just tell you a story about this weekend.    

Saturday night, someone tried to mug me.

I'm down six dollars, but I avoided getting into a fight.

He came from behind me as I was leaving a little mini-mart/liquor store on the corner of MLK and Ashby. He waited until I was a bit away from the store across the street and walking into a less lit area. He was about a foot taller than me (around 6'6"?) and had clearly been drinking. Reeked of it. Bloodshot eyes. He demanded my wallet and phone, or he would kick my ass.

My fight or flight response has never been very...let's say *wise* when it comes to bullies. It's gotten me in trouble. It's gotten me hurt. And it's put me in situations my loved ones were not at all okay with. And I kind of wish I could turn it off because the contents of my wallet are never going to be worth it if someone pulls a weapon or easily follows through with their threats.

But I hate bullies. I hate them so, so much, and they remind me of every helpless, frustrating conversation I didn't have the emotional power to resist and how when it was someone I couldn't fight back against, I would just pull further and further into myself until it was over. I think half the reason I won't shut up is because social dynamics are just a macro and cultural form of bullying. And when people expect to get exactly what they want just because they're bigger or more powerful...it infuriates me.

I pulled out my wallet, thumbed through the cash so he could see it, and told him I had $126 dollars and whatever he could get for my iPhone 4 (I actually have an iPhone 6), but I was going to make him work for it. And I'd be imagining his face was Brett Kavanaugh the entire time. (I didn't get the impression he knew who that was.)

"Forget it," he said.

Apparently, I was not the roll-over-and-die easy mark he thought I was going to be.

"Here," I said, and handed him the six bucks. "You're going to get killed doing this. Be careful."

I was already dealing with the first of the adrenaline dump, my voice was shaking, I was more yelling than speaking, and I turned and left too fast to see how he reacted.

(No, I didn't call the cops. No, I'm not going to.)

Someone on Facebook asked me why people try to mug me so often. I thought about this a lot on Saturday night as it took me a couple of hours to calm down enough to get to sleep. (Once I fell asleep though, man it was hard and heavy and AWESOME.)

Twice when I was doing my PR-24 and basic training for security, and once in a seminar type martial arts class, I got pulled out of the audience (by three instructors who didn't know each other or me) and told that I was the guy they wouldn't try to mug. Everyone in the audience kind of laughed because I was short and small and even back when I was doing all kinds of martial arts, I was a bit rounded on the edges. Thus, what I suspect is that I was actually the guy who looked most ostensibly muggable at first, while still making their point.

I'm fairly certain some of those six foot eight guys who looked like they had to lift the actual gym equipment itself to get a reasonable work out weren't getting mugged on the regular.

What they said was that I was the guy they couldn't peg. I didn't carry myself like prey. I was the one they were going to misjudge. I'd end up having twenty bucks in my wallet but even if they kicked my ass, I'd cause more than $20 worth of medical bills going down. Not worth it. Move on. Find someone easier.

Which kind of makes me wish the muggers of the world had their insight because, to date, I have lived through seven attempted muggings and I'm getting pretty fucking sick of it. None has ever gone down quite the way the muggers expected. About half have gotten physical in a way that someone got hurt. I remain unscathed and officially unmugged (at least un-successfully-mugged.)

But upon further adrenaline-fueled pre-sleep reflection, seven is not really that high. I've been walking all over since I was six or seven and my parents let me go out of their sight. (And yes, a couple of those mugging attempts were before I was even an adult.) I walk a LOT. Hours a week. If I have time, I walk to the store instead of driving. And I regularly just take off and do a circuit around the neighborhood or take a small hike. I try to get to bigger hikes when my schedule permits. And I'm rarely careful about when and where I walk. I also check my phone constantly if I'm not pushing a stroller or crossing the street. I'm sure being apparently distracted has contributed to an uptick in the last decade or so.

From a pure walk to attempt-mug ratio perspective, I'm doing pretty well. I've also nearly been run over probably 100 times, which might sound like I have the worst luck in the universe until I tell you that it probably happens like 1 in every 200 times I go walking (and those are just close calls––no one's ever actually hit me), or perhaps 1 in every 500 miles of walking or so. In terms of risk vs. reward, I'm doing pretty good. I've been attempt-mugged on average of once every four years. Which, if you consider that each of those four years represents about 2000-2500 hours of walking, is really not that much, given that Oakland and Berkeley are among my stomping grounds.

But also....maybe those guys were on to something. Because usually sober people don't try to mug me. I think the last time they did, it was three youngish people late at night who I really don't think were experienced at what they were doing. They clearly didn't want to upgrade to assault, so I just vise-gripped the phone one of them was trying to yank out of my pocket, kept walking until I was under a streetlight, and they realized we were in a lit, crowded intersection making a lot of noise. That was over a decade ago. Maybe it's drunk people who are usually missing some of the subtler cues that I don't smell like prey. Or maybe those security/martial art teachers just needed someone small but a little squishy to make a point about profiling and it had nothing to do with how I carried myself.

Either way, I like walking, so I'm not going to let this ruin it for me.

Anyway, I'm fine. And life proceeds apace. In these situations I always get a bee in my bonnet and fight back (even when it's not always wise of me to do so), but I survived another. And perhaps that mindset has something to do with with why I haven't let the incredible failures of writing or a life in art beat me down either. Something something something subverts the tropes and changes the narratives. [Insert folksy writing wisdom here.]

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